Four years and three autism diagnosis ago, I wrote a piece on my old blog titled “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” Some things have changed, while other things have stayed the same, and I’d like to talk about this concept again.
“You should be grateful, other people have it worse than you.” Phrases like that are often used to dismiss #firstworldproblems or other things problems that the person considers to be minor. Some people intend it to be comforting, but it almost always conveys the message that you aren’t allowed to be sad because someone else has much worse problems that in comparison yours look so tiny that how dare you feel that way?! This is common enough that I’ve seen plenty of memes expanding that logic to prove the absurdity of it. Yet this idea persists, that one can not feel bad or worried about something that is bothering them because in the grand scene of things they’re not dying of cancer or malnutrition, so what right do they have? Plenty, in my opinion. And I still feel that way even now that people are using my family as the people who “have it worse” that they’re comparing themselves to.
I get a lot of visceral reactions from people when I mention I have three kids on the spectrum; even in a group of fellow parents of autistic kids. 1 is not unheard of, and 2 happens occasionally, but 3? That seems to be shocking to most people. I get a lot of “you sure have your hands full!” and “you must be really organized” and “I can’t even imagine!” Honestly, we’ve got a great life and I love my kids the way they are. But with so many people thinking of autism as only challenges with no joys, 3 times the challenges seems overwhelming to them, I guess. I hear their stories of having to fight the local public schools for appropriate education and I can’t imagine having to do all that! I guess they turn that around and can’t imagine their battle times 3. Thing is, I’m not fighting battles except for understanding and acceptance on social media. The rest of our life is usually fairly peaceful. It’s worse outside of that group. With fearmongering ad campaigns like the ransom style “We have your son. -Autism” and Autism Speak’s “I am Autism” getting more publicity than anything positive or good, is it any wonder?
But the worst part of people comparing their lives to what they think mine is like is that my very good friend who has her own individual struggles with her kids doesn’t feel right talking about them to me because mine are “worse” to her. Even when I reminder her of what the above meme says and that I don’t feel like she doesn’t have a right, she still struggles with feeling guilty about talking about hers. And that sucks. I want to help and support my friend in whatever way I can, and I hate the idea of an uneven friendship where I receive all the help/support and give none. I wish people would believe me when I say that our life really isn’t this constant uphill battle. Sure, there are challenges that keep me from getting stagnate in the personal growth department. Challenges that test my creativity and ingenuity and ability to find the right words to Google. I would probably be bored if there wasn’t. I’ve got more in common with my spectrum kids than neurotypical kids and I’m really happy with the happy autism bubble we live in when we’re home.
So please, stop comparing your life to mine and minimizing your own struggles. Stop comparing to any other family. Be sad and worried when you feel it, and rejoice when you’re happy. You’re not better off just because you don’t have 3 kids on the spectrum. You are just you; warts and all.